thrillers of the 1990s tend to come in two main types. First, there is the
pure, no-nonsense sort like Cliffhanger (1993),
which reduces all action to the timeless struggle of bodies in a landscape.
Then there is the busy, topical thriller, keen to introduce sociological
digressions and bits from as many other popular genres as possible.
Rising Sun is a reasonably
fascinating example of the latter type. It has a bit of everything: a murder
mystery; a buddy-cop comedy; martial arts action; a serious exploration of
Japanese-American relations; and a cautionary treatise on the implications of
new digital-media technology (it’s a “missing disc” tale, in the way that crime
films used to be about missing ledgers or address books). Director Philip
Kaufman (Henry and June, 1990)
indulges his fondness for arty camera angles and dramatic ambiguities, but
happily throws in a few lewd gags and knockabout stunts as well.
Rising Sun has been somewhat
hysterically tagged in some quarters as a piece of racist propaganda, but it is
best taken as a playful, knowing thriller in the vein of Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989). It enjoys a special
kindship (intended or not) with one of Samuel Fuller’s greatest works, The Crimson Kimono (1959).
murder takes place at the heart of Los Angeles’ “secret Japan”. This sets off
an investigation that highlights every imaginable cultural difference between
Eastern and Western societies. Wesley Snipes plays Web Smith, the innocent cop
taken through the ensuing labyrinth by a wise, enigmatic mediator, Connor (Sean
Connery in fine form). In this mainly male drama, Tatjana Patitz features as
the dead-girl-on-disc, and Tia Carrere plays the kind of digital tech expert
who swiftly became a staple of all cop-team TV series in the Law & Order line.
script, adapted by Kaufman and Michael Backes from a Michael Crichton novel, is
already tricky enough. But Kaufman works overtime adding layers of visual and
may not amount to very much by the end but, while it lasts, Rising Sun is a highly enjoyable
bouillabaisse of clever aphorisms, pointed cultural references, and exciting
clinches both deadly and erotic.
© Adrian Martin April 1994